Covering an area nearly the size of France, Ascension Island’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) is home to some of the largest fish species found anywhere on earth. Giant tuna, marlin, swordfish and sailfish are among the vast abundance of marine wildlife in this UK Overseas Territory, as well as 11 species of coastal fish found nowhere else on earth.
Now completely closed to large-scale commercial fishing, including destructive longline fishing, a remarkable 99.5 per cent of the MPA is “no-take” with just 0.5 per cent around the island open to local fishing. It provides 445,000 square kilometers of the Atlantic Ocean with some of the highest marine protection seen anywhere on the planet. Mining activities will also be prohibited, ensuring the unexplored deep seabed and the hydrothermal vents that run along the Mid Atlantic Ridge will not be disturbed. Cutting edge satellite technology and remote surveillance will enable a small team to enforce compliance.
The online Marine Management Plan published today is uniquely interactive, making it accessible for both experts and the general public. It sets out the five-year plan of protection that Ascension will give to its marine ecosystems and will work to further strengthen the deep connection between the local community and the ocean. A close partnership between the local community and the island government will carefully manage local fishing to safeguard fish stocks.
Additionally, the Ascension Island Government (alongside the UK Government’s Blue Belt Programme, Blue Marine Foundation, NGOs and academic partners) will undertake an ambitious programme of research and restoration to increase knowledge and improve the condition of the MPA.
Lord (Zac) Goldmsith said: “The MPA Management Plan that underpins the designation demonstrates the commitment shared by Ascension islanders and the UK Government to the highest standards of ongoing management, scientific monitoring and enforcement for the MPA. The Plan will ensure the ongoing protection for the wealth of biodiversity around the island, including the top predators whose size, sadly, is now rare in other parts of the world. It will also act as a framework for further study of the island’s habitats.”
Dr Dee Baum, Director of Conservation and Fisheries, Ascension Island Government said: “Ascension wants nothing less than to have the best MPA in the world and the Management Plan is our blueprint for doing this. Large-scale commercial fisheries and mining have the potential to devastate our oceans and there is no place for either activity anywhere in our MPA. That global leadership will extend to proactively protecting our ocean from other threats and ensuring everybody living in Ascension will share in the pride and benefits that flow from the MPA. We are a small island, but we have a big vision.”
Councillor Kitty George and Councillor Alan Nicholls said: “We are proud to have been a part of the decision-making process that has led to the creation of Ascension Island’s Marine Protected Area. It is a privilege for our community to be able to make such a contribution towards protecting the biodiversity of our planet for future generations to use and enjoy.
Councillor Andrew Ellick said: “We would like to say a big thank you to all contributors that made this project possible and hope they will continue to do so in the future. Ascension will strive to improve the quality and enrich its waters by continuing to play an active part in the conservation of the sea.”
All images by Dr Judith Brown’s recently published book, The Marine Life of Ascension.